Teenagers Are Less Likely to Take Sugary Beverages That Come With Warning Labels

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According to a new study which was led by researchers at the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, teenagers are fifteen percent less likely to say they would buy soft drinks and other sugary drinks that have health warning labels. The study is actually among the first to examine how warning labels on sugary drinks influence teens. The research which was published earlier this year, showed that parents were less likely to select sugary drinks for their kids when labels warning about the dangers of added sugar (which can contribute to obesity, tooth decay and diabetes) were present. The study which has significant implications for policies being considered in several states and cities to require sugary drinks to display health warning labels is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“The average teen in the United States consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day, which could account for more than twice the recommended daily serving of sugar,” said lead author Christina Roberto, PhD, an assistant professor of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “The rate of sugar consumption in the U.S. is astounding and contributes significantly to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other dangerous and costly health conditions.”

The researchers used an online survey to gauge the beverage selections of more than 2,000 participants aged 12-18, and from different backgrounds, in the study. The drinks included either no label, or one of five warning labels, of which one features calorie content and the other four showing different warning messages.

All-in-all, about seventy-seven percent of participants that saw the no-label said that they would select a sugary beverage in a hypothetical choice task. The warning labels showed that taking in sugary drinks plays a part in obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. The warning labels were almost all the same with slight differences in wording, such as emphasizing that the conditions are “preventable diseases” or highlighting that the consumption of sugary drinks contributes to “type 2 diabetes”.  The participants were eight to sixteen percent less likely to select sugary drinks when health warning labels were present compared to when there was no label depending on the specific phrasing of the warning labels.

The researchers state that teenagers, understanding the potential negative effects on health are regularly consuming less sugary beverages with the aid of the warning labels. With the participants seeing the labels, they will have a much greater understanding that these drinks do not contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, the majority of participants (62 percent) said they would support a warning label policy for sugary drinks.

“The influence of warning labels on the purchasing intentions of teenagers in this study highlights the need for nutrition information at the point of purchase to help people make healthier choices,” said co-author Eric M. VanEpps, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “This study shows that warning labels can affect teenagers’ beverage preferences, and future research will be needed to determine whether these labels are similarly effective in more typical purchasing environments.”

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